Sunday, October 17, 2010

Alien v. Ninja

My friends and I met for a film screening of Japanese action flick "Alien v. Ninja" at The Silent Movie Theatre in West Hollywood. The theater is playing all horror movies for the month of October, and this movie was part of a gorey Japanese double feature.

I was catching up with my friend April, whom I hadn't seen in awhile, and the topic came to movies that were currently playing.

"Have you seen the Social Network?" I asked.

"No," she said. "Have you?"

"No," I said.

I hesitated before asking the next question. Then I timidly tried:

"Do you want to?"

"No," she said.

"Thank god," I sighed. "I thought I was the only one."

I don't have TV, and so maybe I would want to see the movie if I did--trailers of a new hunky young actor portraying a college student in psychological pain against the backdrop of one of the country's best and oldest universities. But what I have seen/heard of the movie does not tempt me--NPR critics revering the movie as a tour de force portrait of a genius, Entertainment magazine profiling the "sexy geek" actors who are not really computer programmers, but actors. I even saw a giant billboard with a close-up of star Jesse Eisenberg's face, with the word "PROPHET" typed across the top in giant letters.

Which got me to thinking, since when did founding a billion-dollar company make one a prophet? Prophets are typically people with a direct connection to the divine, who go out and help masses of people during their lifetimes. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whom "The Social Network" is about, has touched millions of lives, but has it been from a place of divine connection or self-sacrifice? I think not. In fact, the kicker is, he didn't even invent social networking, even though so many people think he did. In the couple of years before the launch of Facebook, MySpace and Friendster, which were simpler versions of Facebook, already existed. Zuckerberg is not a prophet, but a CEO who hired better programmers than the first two.

April and I agreed that there were a plethora of other people we'd rather see profiled in a feature film. How about Liu Xiaobo, the jailed activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who's been tirelessly fighting for freedom of speech in China for years? Martha Graham, inventor of modern dance? Al Gore, politician-turned-global-warming activist? Cornel West, racial justice advocate? The list goes on and on. But a profile of a person who happened to opportune upon the right trend at the right time? I think not.

You may roll your eyes and say,"'The Social Network' got great reviews. How many great reviews did 'Alien v. Ninja' get?" The answer is, I don't care. It was an elegantly done, low-budget martial arts movie with ninjas in black pleather costumes that would rival those of Batman and Catwoman. It opened me and my friends up to an entire new genre of film, and it made me realize that there is genius and magic happening all over the world, outside of the big studio system.

The Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk almost recently went on hiatus due to a lack of funds. It was saved by area businesses that realized it was a vital part of Los Angeles culture. The Silent Movie Theater was packed when I saw "Alien v. Ninja." But it could have been empty. Independent artistic venues always seem to be struggling in the face of big business.

The audience in that theater bonded in a way that never could have happened at an AMC movie theater--we screamed when the alien stuck tentacles into a ninja's flesh, we howled and clapped together when he was finally killed.

It is easy to forget how much vibrant culture and genius exists outside of the top 10 blockbusters, or the New York Times bestseller list. But it is there, always there. It is up to everyone to take the road less traveled by when it comes to culture. Because it will make us smarter. It will make us more interesting. And above all, it will make us connect in a way that we never can over Facebook.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Two Halloweens

Halloween 2008. Boulder, Colorado. I’ve been thinking of this costume for a couple of years now, it makes me smile during grunt work at my office job. A tap-dancing banana—a body-sized banana costume with fishnets, a leotard, high-heeled tap shoes and a cane. Ludicrous—based vaguely on Fruit of the Loom commercials and that old movie preview cartoon—“Let’s all go to the lobby, and have ourselves a snack!”

This year I decide to do it, I begin collecting the materials. I put on the banana bodysuit and have trouble making my face look like it has a head of hair attached to it—just a big pasty round thing in the middle of a sea of yellow. There is one conundrum…will I be able to be in a costume that is not sexy? I have always admired the women who are unsexy on Halloween on purpose, sort of an “F you” to gender rules. They opt to go the whole night without male validation. A lot of them are gay. But for so many young women, Halloween is the one day of the year when it is okay to be suggestive, to wear something short or skimpy, even to wear something that would other days of the year look like it came from a sex shop. There is almost a franticness to it—“I have to get my fake eyelashes perfect!” “Can I borrow your lipstick?” “I spent $100 on these heels, just to wear to the party.” My costumes have, ever since I began noticing boys, been appropriately flirty. I thought the banana might be the same, but I find that when you take away your hair and your waistline, you become completely asexual.

The night unfolds uneventfully. I wander Pearl Street with my friend and her romantic interest. She is cute—an ice princess with a long white dress with bell sleeves that have fake fur trim. He’s not wearing a costume, opting to remain coolly unnoticed. Typical Halloween costumes float by in the drunken, rowdy crowd—Super Mario Brothers, Kill Bill, Hunter S. Thompson. I even meet one or two bananas, but I am the only dancing banana. And my feet kill—they are real tap shoes. Nobody seems to understand my costume, just like “oh, cool, a banana. I’m a pimp.” No one notices all the details. It can be hard to find people with a black sense of humor in Boulder—it’s not until I move to Los Angeles one year later that people truly appreciate my costume.

My cohorts and I go into Pearl Street Pub—jam-packed with people trying to get wasted, but there are not enough bartenders to meet the demand. We go down to the basement, and I go upstairs to try and get us some drinks. There is a thick wall of people several feet deep around the bar, I know it will be awhile before I’m served. The bartender is dressed like Richie Tenenbaum from The Royal Tenenbaums—that’s Luke Wilson’s character, a depressed tennis star who always wears a headband over his shaggy hair, and a blazer. I consider it a very unoriginal costume—it’s for guys who think they’re hipsters, but really they’re frat boys. Who grow their hair out because it’s cool, but otherwise can’t think for themselves. Who might not even know that Wes Anderson directed The Royal Tenenbaums. I know that’s harsh, but you know exactly who I’m talking about.

Anyway, this bartender is hot, and I notice he’s serving cute girls first. An injustice that exists only at some bars, and men have to put up with it 365 days a year. I wait expectantly for him to ask me what I want, but he does not. Cute girls come and go, and pretty soon he starts serving the guys. Ten minutes go by. Fifteen. I try to flag him down. It’s too loud for him to hear me, but I am pretty obvious—I’m the giant yellow thing at the end of the bar. Twenty minutes go by. I’m starting to understand…this guy is consciously invalidating my femininity by choosing not to serve me. People come and go around me, I’m at the head of the bar, he goes around me, serving the people to my left and right. People who have been waiting only five minutes get served. I wait for a total of a half an hour, I kid you not, before I decide it’s time to find a new bar. Some of my girlfriends with more chutzpah might have said something—“F you, bartender! The Royal Tenenbaums is probably the deepest movie you’ve ever seen!” But I don’t. I’m shattered, I can’t enjoy the rest of the night, I can’t flirt, I can’t smile. I have been made to feel worthless because I’m not dressed like a sexy fairy. And I internalize it. I vow never to dress like a tap-dancing banana again.

Halloween 2009. Los Angeles, California. Okay, I wear the banana costume during the day, at my job at a health food store, because it got such positive feedback from my coworkers. “Oh my god, you have to wear that!” Like I said, people in L.A. have more my sense of humor. I tap dance for customers, I take pictures with my friend who is dressed like Laura Palmer’s dead body from Twin Peaks (much better costume than Richie Tenenbaum). But tonight is different, tonight I’m going to a party, and I don’t know if I have the strength to repeat 2008’s asexual nightmare.

So I pull out 2007’s costume—a sexy cop. Shiny vinyl hat and skintight uniform dress that you must wear with pants because it’s so short. Purchased for way too much money at The Ritz, Boulder’s overpriced Halloween store.

I enter the party when it is fully rolling, there is a good crowd. Ironically, there seems to be a dearth of singles, and a lot of couples, couples wearing matching costumes. My friend who invited me, who is married, did not tell me this would be the case. She is dressed like a respectful butterfly, and her husband as a butterfly catcher. And I am dressed like a stripper. Possibly my favorite couples costume is two friends who dress like John and Kate Plus Eight. She has a studiously blond frosted and layered wig with a tacky soccer mom outfit, and he has an Ed Hardy shirt, and eight Barbie doll “kids” wrapped around his waist that he bought at the 99 cent store. They are funny together, acting as if they are a married couple.

I go to the kitchen to get a drink, and the thing I dread happens, a guy gets turned on and expects me to dominate him. I have found since buying the cop costume that it brings out some primal submissive instinct in men, and they get a little gleam in their eye and say something along the lines of, “arrest me.” It has happened several times. But I am far from a dominatrix, I am more the awkward librarian type, and I can’t act the part. This guy is a stoner hippie—he has a long tangle of dreadlocks. “No, officer, I didn’t do it!” he yells. “Oh, well, if you have to,” he adds, and leans against the wall with his back facing me and spreads his legs—he wants me to “search” him. At the moment I panic, I have no idea what he’s doing, and so I spank him, like “okay, off you go.” He is not impressed—he gives me a strange look and walks off.

I wander out to the front porch where there are a few people talking and smoking cigarettes, including my friend. She introduces me to a cute friend of hers and I am immediately smitten. He is dressed like a rock star of the Guns n’ Roses era—blond shaggy wig, red bandana and a jean jacket. He is far too serious to own the part, he is as out of place as a rock star as I am as a cop. I know that an 80’s rock star is no more of an original costume than Richie Tenenbaum or a sexy cop, but this is one of those cases where the guy’s friends probably forced him to make an emergency stop at the Halloween store the day before the party. So he doesn’t care about his costume.

We are discussing the surface things you discuss during the first few minutes of knowing somebody, and then Kate of John and Kate comes outside. She is talking to someone near us, and she doesn’t even make eye contact with us, but I can feel the energy between her and Axl Rose. I realize that he knows her, and he is very much in love with her. I’m pretty intuitive, and I trust these instincts. I realize that my crush is a no go.

Axl and I end up inside, and we continue our conversation. He is a graduate student in chemistry, and so we talk about graduate school. At least that is what I remember. It wasn’t an incredible conversation, but I remember that it was genuine. It can be a rarity at parties to have a genuine conversation with a guy, especially in meat-market type environments, when men and women are scanning the room for other people to talk to at the same time that they talk to each other. He is good-looking enough to where I expect that he will be eyeballing other women, and yet he’s not. He’s an anomaly of a man.

Through our discussion, I discover that Kate is his wife, and so my intuition that he is in love with her proves right on. I keep a respectful distance, careful not to flirt as I observe him on an energetic level even further. He is 100% in love with her, and has no eyes for anyone else, not even a sexy cop. I begin falling in love with him because he is capable of falling in love with a real woman. A woman who projects to the world not her physical beauty but her personality, who is wearing a tongue-in-cheek costume, who wears dumpy clothes to a Halloween party.

As I observe even further I discover something else which is my saddest moment of the night. We are discussing something along the lines of the scientific merits of various universities, and I feel him feeling sorry for me, thinking, “I can’t believe she thinks she has to dress like a suggestive police officer in order to win male approval. She is far too smart for this, and doesn’t know enough about men.” As soon as I observe this I feel shame. His thought did not come from a place of condescending superiority, of putting me down, but rather a real place of concern for the plight of women. I fall in love even further. I feel like I have some growing up to do, and I send I prayer out to the universe that there is someone like this waiting for me one day.

And I wish tonight that I had dressed like a dancing banana. Because that is who I truly am.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Freddie Mercury Will Rock You

I don't know about you, but when I'm in the car, and a song by Queen comes on, I have to listen to the whole thing, no matter how many times I've heard it. "Momma...just killed a man...put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger now he's dead," with the same emotion as when I first heard it in Wayne's World (I'm not old enough to have been there the first time around.) I will even sit in a parked car and be a few minutes late to work just to hear the song. Freddie Mercury has the most gorgeous voice in rock and roll that I know of, and I even found out recently that a famous opera singer requested to perform a concert with him.

Two of the best-known Queen songs, "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" are regularly played at sporting events, particularly hockey. And I find it poignant lately that many of the people who attend these games probably are not big Queen fans, or maybe even don't know that the songs were made by Queen, or could just be too young to know. Most of these people are men, and may exist in a culture where masculinity is placed at a premium, and where homosexuality is considered a weakness, or at least something to stay away from. The word "gay" is tossed around as an affectionate insult, as in "dude, that shirt looks gay on you," or "that's gay," or "I don't hug men, that's gay."

And yet these songs were written by a man who was very gay and who still rocked enough to get stadiums full of tens of thousands of people stomping their feet and clapping their hands in unison 30 years later. Who wore tights and a skinny bare chest during concerts and yet whose song "We Are the Champions" is automatically played at the winning of the Stanley Cup, World Series and other finals.

And that is the beauty of real art--it transcends these boundaries. In New York City, when I would stop to see a really good drummer with his plastic buckets I would look around me to see who else was listening. People of all backgrounds would stop--the audience was merely composed of people who loved drumming. Stoners, stockbrokers, housewives and seniors all together. But somehow I find it more powerful to think of a gay lead singer, who was aware of the homosexual connotations when naming his band "Queen," bringing the sports world to its knees, giant men with chipped and missing teeth hugging and loving each other when they win the championship.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Food for Thought

Our reality is very much driven by the foods we consume.

Most of us eat diets that are too heavy for our system--processed foods, too much fat, sugar, etc. In the classic macrobiotic cookbook "The Self Healing Cookbook," Kristina Turner says that people eat fat to emotionally buffer themselves from the harsher aspects of life, and that it is something we do to survive modern life.

I think we eat food that we know is bad for us because it enables us to get through a day that we aren't into--a rude awakening by the alarm clock, rushing around, meetings, and projects at work we don't always agree with. I had a job where I was frequently on deadline to produce copious amounts of work, and on those days I always craved the same thing--an Italian sandwich from Subway, a bag of Doritos, and a diet Coke.

Have you ever tried to eat a simple, whole foods, non-caffienated diet? Something changes in you, you don't have that "rush" that allows you to work at a ridiculous pace.

In her book "Super Cleanse," Adina Niemerow, a health food chef, talks about clients who attend her cleansing retreats. They eat fresh, organic foods with little adulteration. After unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, the people often have big realizations that they are living lives they don't always agree with. People have thoughts like, "why am I investing in a company that dumps oil in the ocean or contributes to the weapons industry?" Or "why am I marketing director for a company that sells a product I don't believe in?" Some of these people change their careers entirely, beginning nonprofits or going back to school to become naturopaths or something similar.

There is some energetic component of food that makes people think or act a certain way. Heavier, processed foods enable us to either get through jobs we're not into, or if we are into them, to work at an unhealthy pace. Lighter, unprocessed foods force reflection, and make it impossible to work at the same pace.

So if U.S. culture is moving towards shopping at Whole Foods, buying organic, and thinking about nutrition, we are also moving towards some consciousness shift where the career culture will soon look very different.

Friday, February 5, 2010

To B12 or not to B12?

Working as a nutrition assistant in health food stores over the past year or so has given me some insight into supplements and herbs. There are thousands of products to choose from, and I see when people come in how they get easily overwhelmed. But for every person who worries that they're not taking enough, there's several more people who aren't taking anything at all.

So I devote this blog to basic supplement information. I will tell you the three basic supplements that you probably should take. It's debatable, as a lot of people like to get their nutrition solely from food, but the reality is that most of us aren't eating a whole-foods diet.

Number One: You need a multivitamin. It's easy to forget, and to think you need instead a miracle green powder or fish oil combination, but a daily multivitamin is the main supplement you need. It contains just about all the essential daily nutrients. An "essential" nutrient, like vitamin C or zinc, is something that a person needs to get from food, or somewhere outside the body, because the body can't produce it on its own. Many people come into a health food store because they lack energy, and want an interesting herb or antioxidant from the rainforest to pep them up, but they're not taking a daily multivitamin. It's amazing how much more energy you have when your daily nutrition needs are met.

People wonder, also, why the amounts of vitamins and minerals are so high on a multi. What it is is the difference between maintenance and "optimal" nutrition. For example, if your multi has 60 mg. (or 100% daily value) of vitamin C, it is performing at a maintenance level to prevent scurvy and other complications. However, if it has 250 mg. of vitamin C, as many vitamins do, the vitamin C begins to perform at the "optimal" level and acts an an anti-aging nutrient, and it is also good for your heart health. So a lot of vitamins today are formulated at the "optimal" level.

Number Two: You need a calcium/magnesium combination. Calcium and magnesium are also essential minerals, and thus you'll see them in your multivitamin, but they won't be there in high enough quantities. Many people get confused or upset that there's not enough calcium and magnesium in their multi, but the problem is that the vitamin is not big enough to hold the calcium and magnesium. The daily required dose of calcium is 1 gram (1,000 mg.), and magnesium is 400 mg., making them the largest essential supplements in your diet. They usually are sold in a combination together, but you can also buy them separately.

Many people find out from their doctor that they need to be taking calcium, but the doctor fails to mention that they also need magnesium. You can take calcium on its own, but you run the risk that it may not absorb into your bones well enough if you do that. When you take it with magnesium (and a good combo will also have a little vitamin D and/or K), it absorbs much better into your bones where it's supposed to be, and stays out of your arteries.

Men also need calcium/magnesium. Women are often encouraged to take it to prevent osteoporosis, but the minerals are just as essential form men.

Number Three: You may need to take an iron supplement.

For reasons I don't quite understand, it's becoming common for multivitamins to be sold without iron these days. It may be because iron upsets some people's stomachs, so the manufacturers take it out. Either way, iron is an essential mineral, and you should always check your vitamin to make sure it's there. If it's not there, you need to take it separately.

The good thing is that iron supplements run cheap--$6 or $7 per bottle. And you should be able to find something called "gentle iron" or "easy iron," which is easier on the stomach.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


In college, I was talking about feminism with a friend. "I feel united with women everywhere," I said. "I think of myself as a woman."

"Really?" she said. "I think of myself first as Hispanic and second as a woman." Her experiences of exclusion were based more on race than gender.

It was a little disappointing to me, because white people don't usually say "I think of myself first as white and second as a woman," although maybe we should. Whiteness is so diffused throughout the media and the corporate world that it's not often thought of as an identity.

This conversation was my first notion that women of color have different feminist issues than white women, that their identities could be more complex and involve more than one layer. Indeed, as I read some prominent feminists, I realized that cultural richness and vastly different viewpoints among feminists of different races is a big feature of the theory today.

And according to Angela Davis, radical scholar, feminism in the United States is not superior to other forms of feminism worldwide. Our values do not need to be spread to other places where women may have been thinking and developing their own ideas for centuries. (She says the same thing about our democratic values.)

Among people who don't read or think much about it, feminism is commonly thought of as a phenomenon that happened among educated white women at universities in the 1970s, that involved bra-burning and fighting for status in the workplace. It is thought to have birthed Hillary Clinton and others like her. It generally thought of in a negative, joking light.

But feminism has been around for longer than that, with women of all races and classes working for different things worldwide, some under the official banner of feminism, some not. And so feminism today can look like many things. It can be advocating for more women painters at an art retrospective, it can be fighting for a safe public space for lesbians to hang out in a conservative town, or it can be offering free childcare to low-income women.

So women really are very diverse, and walking many different paths. And to say that a privileged woman has some sort of spiritual bond with a really oppressed woman is probably too romanticized.

But I do think we have a bond. And the bond is not feminism, or a common fight, but a common love. The love of children.

When I was 10 and visiting Japan with my parents, I thought I was lost in a shopping mall and burst into tears. A female clerk came over to me, knelt down to my height, and began asking me questions in Japanese. "I can't find my mom!" I said. "Mama?" the woman asked. She understood immediately, and stood up straight and saw my parents just a little ways away, and brought me there. She did not speak English, but she understood the language of mother.

Not all women love children, but most do have an innate maternalism. And you will see this on the bus or elevator when one woman looks down at a stroller and gives a big smile to the baby or child inside. All else becomes unimportant as she gets tunnel vision and interacts with the baby. And then she'll smile at the mother, and perhaps they will talk. Or perhaps not, if they speak different languages. The two women would not have bonded without the child, but with the child between them they feel a common love, and they will at least smile at each other. And the mother is so proud of her child, and loves to hear the details of how cute or bright her child is.

It could be a corporate lawyer smiling at the child of a grocery clerk, or vice versa, but because of the child, that boundary is dissolved. All judgement and competition disappears for a brief moment.

Monday, January 4, 2010

He's a Real Nowhere Man

I took a year off of college almost ten years ago, and one of the places I visited during that year was Mendocino, a magical town in Northern California. It is right next to the ocean and surrounded by old-growth forest.

My traveling buddy and I happened upon a tree-sit, and I say "happened upon" because that's literally what happened--one of the hippies in town asked us if we'd like to visit. We ended up living there, sitting in a tree 150 feet off the ground, for a month or so. It was not as difficult as is rumored, because we were able to come down every couple of days and even go into town once in awhile to get some sundries for the tree. In reality, it was a pretty nice existence.

I met a few of the passionate activists who were involved in trying to save this and other trees from being cut down. There was Osha, who lived in a trailer a mile away, who was trying to figure out how to put up sits in some of the other trees that were supposed to come down first. There was Currynt, the leader of the sit, who reused every little thing and walked everywhere. There was a man who delayed the loggers by a month or so because he wouldn't allow them to cross his land. There was even a woman who did topless demonstrations in front of loggers because they couldn't arrest her--physically grab her--because of her nudity. All these people weaved in and out of my existence during that month.

But I remember one day Osha introduced me to two men, maybe in their late twenties, wearing scruffy clothes but not homeless-looking, unlike so many of the hippies who lived outdoors in Mendocino. They were the type of guys you'd expect to have trail-building jobs and not be able to function in an office environment. "These are the guys who built the sit," said Osha, and I looked at them, impressed, but they didn't have much to say. In fact, they were socially awkward and disappeared after a half hour or so.

Building a tree-sit is an incredibly difficult thing. The people in Mendocino did it without the foot spikes that go into the tree (as Lisa Simpson uses in the tree-sitting episode of the Simpsons). They did it by wrapping a rope around the trunk and inching their way up little by little. I watched Osha try and do this in a smaller tree and saw her face wrenched with pain after just ten or so feet. So these men got through 150 feet of this climbing. I'm sure they rested on branches in between, but still, they had the perseverance to go all that way up the tree, plus rig some giant boards to the tree, all with rope--no nails, so that people could live up there.

The most famous name in tree-sitting is Julia Butterfly, a woman who sat in a Redwood tree for two years without coming down. Her refusal to come down led to that tree and thousands around it to be saved, and to more mainstream awareness of deforestation. But before Julia, there had to be a couple of guys (or women) who trudged through the forest with boards, ropes and buckets to build the platform that would become her home.

The history of activism and positive world change is littered with these anonymous folks--people who aren't charming or good on camera--but who build things, cook things, mail things, and generally do unglamorous work.